When I was a kid, I loved pizza. Growing up in New Haven, Connecticut, there were so many great pizza restaurants around. At the time, I didn’t realize how special they really were, and how difficult it is to create a great pizza. The secret, I found out, is in the rich tomato flavor with flavorful San Marzano tomatoes, spicy oregano, and thin, crispy & charred crust. New Haven pizza requires more time and expensive ingredients in my opinion. For instance, you can taste the sauce and actually SEE it in the pizza. In fact, the sauce is often so good that a popular New Haven Pizza is plain – no toppings – just the sauce. In cheap pizzas you’ll often see just gobs of low-quality cheese covering a little bit of sauce. Maybe New Yorkers care more about speed and money… for me, I’ll take a New Haven pizza. New Haven pizza also often has a little bit of charring… the coal-fired ovens make it delicious. For the home baker, it probably won’t be possible to achieve the charring because home ovens don’t get very hot, but we can get a little close.
My deceased grandmother loved to make sauce. My family would grow fresh basil in the backyard and use it in the sauce. Oftentimes sauce is what makes for good Italian food. Fresh ingredients and strong spices make it stellar. Since I moved to Texas a few years ago, I haven’t been happy with the local pizza. I decided to put on my oven gloves and take it to the kitchen, making my own pizza – the way I remember it from my childhood.
I don’t own a New Haven pizza restaurant and clearly different restaurants will have their own take on what is New Haven Pizza, but through my years and years of making pizza this recipe is the closest I’ve come to replicating the regional taste at home.
- 2 cups all purpose flour, 2 cups bread flour (this gives extra elasticity to the dough mix.) I use Bob’s Red Mill All Purpose Flour and Bob’s Red Mill bread flour
- 1 package yeast (regular, rapid-rise, or pizza-specific yeast) Red Star Yeast Preferred
- 2 tablespoons Mediterranean sea salt
- 1 large tablespoon malt (or 3 teaspoons sugar – Sugar in the Raw brand preferred)
- 2 2/3 cups [1.5 total] slightly warm purified water
- 3.5 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 can of whole tomatoes | San Marzano Italian Tomatoes are required for authentic taste
- Dusting of Oregano
- Teaspoon of olive oil
- Medium grind corn meal
- Optional – mozzarella cheese (whole milk – not skim. In block form.)
- Optional – Pepperoni (I like Boar’s Head pepperoni from the butcher section of organic grocery stores or common Hormel’s Original Pepperoni in a package if you can’t get to the butcher’s section.)
- Basil leaves (for the top after baking – optional – not a New Haven signature but Ken’s topping)
- Crushed red pepper on top (optional after baking)
Kitchen Items Needed
- stainless steel bowl
- pizza peel
- pizza cutter
- thick pizza stone
- wood or coal-fired oven imported from Naples (not really, but if you have too much money and lots of space… why not?)
Ken preparing the pizza
Gimme the Dough
Use non-stick spray in a large stainless steel bowl to keep flour from sticking to the bowl. Heat 3/4 cup of water to 120 degrees. For me, 3/4 cup of water in a 1400 watt microwave for 20 seconds at full-power works. You DON’T want the water too warm or it will kill the yeast. Mix warm water, yeast and malt (or sugar) in the cup of warm water. I use a measuring cup to mix the yeast with the sugar/malt. Let sit for at least 5-10 minutes. You should see about a .5 inch foam top form due to the yeast. If no foam starts to generate after a few minutes you either killed the yeast with hot water or the yeast is no good (they do expire – check the package). Mix flour with olive oil and salt. Add the warm water / yeast mix to the large bowl. Stir with a large spoon. Add another 3/4 cup warm water to the mix. When the mix starts to congeal, rub it into a ball. Knead the dough until it has a nice consistency – not too dry, not too wet, but I do prefer it a little on the moist side to help the yeast rise. Cover the ball of dough in the mixing bowl and let the dough rise for 1-24 hours. I like to use a glass plate to cover the mixing bowl so I can see the dough rise. Typically, I’ll make the dough in the morning and then 6 hours or so later I’ll prepare the pizza for the oven. If you can’t wait you can let dough rise for only an hour, but you get more flavor the longer you wait.
Follow the ingredient amounts exactly. If you do, no adjustments will need to be made. If the dough is too dry, add some more water. It may also need a little more olive oil. If the dough is too wet, add more flour. This type of pizza is very hard to make. You’ll need to try many times before you get it right. The fun part of this process is that once you get the pizza right you can experiment with different toppings, ingredients, temperatures, literally everything so each pizza can be a new and different experience while still under the delicious New Haven Pizza umbrella. Speaking of New Haven pizza, you’ll often see it referred to “Apizza” or “ahbeetz.”
Setup the Special Sauce
Smash the whole San Marzano tomatoes in a bowl using either a spoon or potato masher. I find placing the crushed / saucy tomatoes on the pizza cold give the sauce a tangy, rich taste that New Haveners will recognize. You can add oregano to the crushed tomatoes sauce pan. Also the wood or coal-fired oven found in the restaurants give it a really unique taste. Some restaurants will use a lot of oregano — so much so that you can see it everywhere in the sauce. You can use a little garlic but beware –garlic is very potent and just a little too much can ruin all the sauce.
I knead a Pizza
Use a wooden cutting board to knead the dough. There will be enough dough for 4 small pizzas. New Haven style pizza is very, very thin. It can be difficult to get dough very thin. Just keep kneading and flipping the dough. Press with your fingers in an outward motion to stretch the dough on the cutting board or pizza peel. If you can start to see through the dough you’ve stretched it too thin. Also recognize the sauce and toppings will really weigh down a crust and it may stick the pizza to the pizza peel. It might even ruin the pizza. This is where the magic of cornmeal comes in.
Place some cornmeal on a pizza peel. This will help it slide off the peel (and adds a bit of flavor). When the dough is thin enough and in a pizza shape, place it on the spatula.
Ken’s Plain Sauce Apizza
Use a large spoon to put the sauce on the dough, spreading it evenly.Like I mentioned before, sauce is important in New Haven. Add as much as you can, but be careful not to weigh down the pizza too much or you won’t be able to slide it off the pizza peel. You can add toppings; however the sauce is the star of the show and the San Marzano tomatoes give it that sweet taste that goes perfect with a charred crust.
Rip chunks off of the block of whole-milk mozzarella cheese. Space cheese chunks evenly on the pizza. They don’t need to look perfect as the cheese will melt and spread. Add pepperoni if desired [I love pepperoni! It’s America’s favorite topping…]. Place the pizza on a pizza stone. Pizza screens are more durable than cheap pizza stones and help the heat flow through for a crispier crust. Pricer pizza stones are great but need to be thick to be durable and need more time to to preheat in the oven to get hot. I like stone because it’s similar to a real pizza oven.
New Haven style pizza crust is a little crispier than average pizza with char [char is the black burnt areas on the crust that appear randomly on a pizza heated to high temperatures]. The thin crust will also make it crispier. Preheat oven. For a thick pizza stone preheat for a long time. Maybe 40 minutes. Place the pizza in the oven for 13 minutes at 500 degrees. Rack position may affect crispiness. If adding cheese be careful not to place it on a high rack otherwise the cheese will burn. Keep an eye on the pizza in the final minutes of baking. Add basil leaves and crushed red pepper after the pizza is done if desired [not really New Haven, just my take and more Neapolitan].
Home Outdoor Oven
Recently, my brother purchased an OONI outdoor pizza oven that he let me use. Using actual coal and super-hot temperatures made possible from the oven took my pizza to new heights. If you want true New Haven pizza at home, you need coal and a hot oven. If you have the space and money and REALLY love New Haven pizza you must buy one. The coal flavor adds a dimension that is indescribable and truly unique.
The coal oven:
Some of favorite pizza restaurants in New Haven include Frank Pepe’s and Modern Apizza and Tolli’s Apizza. Also, wash the pizza down with some unique soda from the area Foxon Park – my favorite is White Birch. Be sure to stop there when you in town. Traditionally, we would need a coal-fired oven to make these pizzas. You’ll notice that most pizza restaurants add just a little bit of sauce and smother the pizza with cheese. Not the best way to go in my opinion.
New Haven is renowned for its pizza, and it is also a favorite of President Clinton and other famous people. I hope you will enjoy this recipe and make this pizza from a small city in Connecticut a big part of your family life.
Ken’s New Haven Pizza (2019) – Slightly burned with yellow bell peppers, Boar’s Head Pepperoni, Mozzarella cheese
New Haven Pizza Tweak – Naples Pizza:
Since New Haven pizza is a variation of pizza from Naples, Italy, and many New Haven Italians are descended from the Naples area, you may be interested in making a Naples version. It has a great taste due to the Italian ingredients and the strict adherence to pizza standards [ok, my standards aren’t so strict, but I’m American…].
Tweak my existing recipe by using:
- 4 cups 00 flour (from Italy)
- Italian Yeast
- Fresh Basil leaves topping
- Mozzarella is placed with large round slices
I’ve had pizza in all regions in Italy and I love Naples Pizza. It’s a bit fluffier and chewier than New Haven pizza but it has the char we all love.
New Haven Pizza Experience
Frank Pinello discovers New Haven pizza or “Apizza” in this documentary.